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Playing for Pizza

October 24, 2010

It really is good frozen pizza.

I guess Playing for Bratwurst would be a more appropriate title.

And I know that Playing for Frozen Pizza would be a more accurate one.

But at the end of the day, neither of those are the name of a John Grisham novel.

If there’s one thing I do have endless time for over here, it’s reading. Streaming low quality versions of TV shows gets old in a hurry. So does staring at the wall. And I’ve reached my quota for both.

I take book recommendations much the same way I take YouTube recommendations and answering phone calls. I don’t. In all three instances, you’re never absolutely sure what you’re getting yourself into – content or time wise. You don’t know if the YouTube video is two minutes or twenty, whether that phone call is for a quick chat or a heart to heart about the dumbest topic in the world.

And sometimes, there’s just no accounting for taste.

I’m fully aware that this personal philosophy makes me an insufferable hypocrite. I tell everyone to read Siddhartha, to watch Boom Goes the Dynamite, and I won’t stop calling you until we discuss how the most recent Top Chef finale was a setup (Kevin only won one event the whole season!)

There are times when I break down. If something comes recommended from two or more different trusted sources, I usually cave. Except Jersey Shore. We’re nothing without our integrity…

Playing for Pizza was first recommended by my grandfather. I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t take his recommendation seriously. It’s not that I don’t trust his judgment; it’s just that the recommendation came at the end of a long monologue where he tried to convince me to look for work as an accountant.

There’s no doubt that in the hierarchy of job prestige, accountant far outranks secretary (which was my current position at the time), but telling me to become a CPA is equivalent to telling me to jump off a bridge. As an undertaker my grandfather was somewhat of an accountant himself, and I’m sure he just felt that keeping track of numbers was more enjoyable than keeping track of bodies. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that if I became an accountant, he’d have to come out of retirement.

But I did politely tell him that I’d rather be homeless. He told me to move someplace warm.

The second and final recommendation was easier to absorb, as it came with an actual handoff of the book. It was just a few days before I left America, and my mom’s friend had given it to her to give it to me. I had room in my expertly packed bags (expertly packed only because I neglected to bring any winter clothing), and so Playing for Pizza officially became part of my reading list.

I’m a slow reader. To get the idea of just how slow I am, use a hand to cover up an eye and then hold a book upside down. Yeah, that slow.

But Playing for Pizza didn’t take long. It clocks in under 300 pages and the text is big enough to make you think you’re in the fifth grade, i.e. right up my alley. The basic story follows 28-year-old quarterback Rick Dockery as he makes the transition from NFL third-stringer to Italian League star, all while coming to grips with his ego and learning to re-love the game of football.

What freaked me out were all the little details that Grisham nailed about living overseas as a professional athlete. What pissed me off is how much better Rick Dockery was doing it than I currently am.

Now most fictional characters are supposed to be doing a better job than you are. Will Hunting is obviously smarter than me; Tyler Durden is clearly the better fighter; and Jason Bourne is fluent in more languages than I know exist.

I’m currently fluent in none. One of my goals for this German trip was to learn the language. Not only is my German not getting any better, but my English is actually getting worse. Whenever I’m having difficulty communicating with a German person, my first instinct is to speak Spanish. As you probably can imagine, adding a third language to the mix makes for a verbal ménage à trois that no one wants to be a part of.

My next instinct is to speak broken English in a German accent in the hope that I’ll be easier to understand. There are a few keys to making this work. First of all, only use the verb MAKE. It’s the only one they know. I wish I were kidding. I mean I wish I was make jokings. And that’s the other thing, when you use make, you have to add an –ING and an –S to whatever word immediately follows. So instead of “we’re going to run,” it’s “we make runnings.” Instead of “time for breakfast,” it’s “we make eatings?” So with that in mind, let’s make finishings to my original train of thought.

That's a really happy train of thought.

So we’ve established that fictional characters can be pretty impressive. But when there’s a fictional character living a life so similar to yours and living it so much better, it’s impossible not to feel challenged. Here’s a quick comparison of Fictional Rick and I:

Rick dines on lavish five course meals at Italian restaurants. I eat frozen pizza six days a week.

Rick dates beautiful opera singers. I scare beautiful spa goers.

Rick flies home just to punch a blowhard reporter in the face. I can’t pay for a plane ticket and probably can’t throw a decent punch either.

Rick spends money on extravagant trips to Venice and the like. I find and save plastic baggies for re-use like an environmentally-conscious coke dealer.

The thing that annoys me most about Rick right now, however, is that he wins.

Right now, my team is 1-4. We have not played well as a team and I have not played well individually. With only one game a week, we are kind of like a football team. We prepare for five straight days, twice a day, to win one forty-minute game. There’s nothing worse than losing on Saturday and then having an entire week to think about it. It’s like being grounded.

Well, we’ve been grounded for a month now. But then again, so was Rick at the beginning. And he turned it all around and won the Italian Super Bowl, all while wooing a college girl, sightseeing, and learning to drive stick. If Andy Dufresne taught me anything, it’s that there’s always hope.

A win, please, Basketball Gods.

It was a really fun book.

I highly recommend it…

Excuses, excuses…

September 22, 2010

I hate people that have excuses for everything. But since we’ve already covered that I hate myself, a list of excuses for my blogging absence won’t further damage my self-perception. In my defense, I don’t make excuses, they just happen to come very naturally to me.

So without further ado, here are my six favorite excuses for my lack of posts:

(1) I didn’t have internet for a week and a half.

This isn’t entirely true but it is the most relevant excuse. There was internet to be had, just not in the friendly confines of my apartment. Getting access involved several flights of stairs, a different building, and unfriendly looks from the kids wondering why there was an American camped out in their shared kitchen space.

(2) I’ve hit my head so many times in my new A-frame apartment that doing anything other than walking and eating has been too taxing for my damaged brain.

This was a legitimate problem for the first couple of weeks. And yes, it took a couple of weeks for me to figure out how to not hit my head in the bathroom and kitchen. You’d think hitting your head really, really hard once would teach you the lesson, but it turns out that it takes at least eight really, really hard hits. To wash my dishes without risking concussion, I have to open the skylight window above the sink and stick my head out. There’s no such easy solution for the bathroom. Well, there is, but I’m not ready to do that just yet.


I added the black circles. Sticker is a little too detailed for the general public.

This sticker is actually on my toilet. My favorite part is the hat. I didn’t know this, but apparently if you pee standing up, your hat needs to be backwards. It’s more informal I guess. Luckily for me, I don’t wear hats. Unluckily for me, the reason I don’t wear hats is because I have an awkwardly shaped head that doesn’t work well with the standard hat structure.

(3) I’ve grown accustomed to my new German way of life too quickly, and have allowed a touch of monotony to creep into my everyday outlook.

Sometimes I forget I’m in a foreign country. The preseason routine was well established after a couple of days, and that routine took me away from appreciating and noticing my day-to-day experiences. I guess you could say the Honeymoon period is over.

(4) The walkable Döneria shut down with zero notice.

This was a huge setback. A guy can only eat so many PB&Js in one day. For the American readers, a Döner is a Turkish sandwich of shaved chicken or beef with tzatziki sauce and some other trimmings. It’s like a Turkish burrito. And I’m in love with them. Fellow player/blogger Jon Jaques knows what I’m talking about.

The tasche version of the döner. Last one I had before it closed.

The only drawback to this Döneria was that one of the owners was a little too happy that I was American and would ask me (every damn time) to take him back to America with me. Not only did he want me to take him back, but he wanted me to put him up in my house as well. I probably would have agreed (assuming he’d set up a personal Döneria in my kitchen) but I had a sneaking suspicion that he was the type of guy who’d be staring at me when I sleep. His sudden disappearance and the closure of his shop all but confirm that suspicion.

(5) I had to find another Döneria.

Okay, this didn’t take that long. There are Dönerias everywhere. And the people at my new place are much less invasive, if asking to hold my passport and going through it for ten minutes is considered less invasive. I honestly didn’t mind though, as I was too excited by the addition of feta cheese and pepperoncinis to my sandwich.

The dürüm version. Much more burrito-like. Much better. Now if only I could walk there.

(6) The German Grace Kelly broke my heart.

My sixth and final excuse. A couple of weeks ago, some members of the team and I went to Westfalen Therme, which is a spa about fifteen minutes outside of Paderborn. I’d never been to a place quite like it before. It was a mix of hotel resort, bath house, and peep show rolled into one — not that I’ve ever been to a peep show or bath house, but I’ve seen enough in movies to make the connection. Needless to say, it was quite an eye-opening experience.

But the thing that opened my eyes the most was this absolutely stunning blonde that spent the majority of her time in the pool area. She was classically beautiful and had a perfect set of teeth (I’m a teeth man). She almost made me want to become a dentist, or more accurately her dentist. I’d schedule her for free weekly appointments until I got fired.

Now I’ve never been good at picking women up, figuratively or physically. The last wedding I went to, I literally picked up a bridesmaid (there was an open bar) and continued to carry her around, almost dropping her on her head a number of times. As for the other kind of pick up, I have no lines and I have no game. As far as I’m concerned, going up to a random girl and striking up a conversation is as terrifying as the spider that I killed in bathroom two days ago (it was as big as my hand).

So if I suck at picking up women in English, how do you think I am in German?

What was I going to say to her? I’m hungry? I’m thirsty? I’m tired? There’s nothing sexier than a guy talking about his basic needs… With my limited German vocabulary, verbal trickery was clearly out of the picture, so I did what any other normal guy would do in my situation:

I swam creepily in her vicinity for about an hour.

It sounds even more pathetic when I type it out. I was like a toothless (and spineless) alligator, which as far as I’m concerned is the worst kind of alligator.

So there I was, lurking and working on my backstroke, making absolutely no progress and probably getting noticed on security tapes as someone to keep an eye on. Being in a public pool by yourself (the other guys were elsewhere) without anything (appropriate) to play with is awkward. What was I thinking?

I wasn’t. And while I wasn’t, she was playing catch with two little kids. Were they hers? I didn’t care. I’d make a great stepfather. Being a stepfather is like a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card. If your stepchildren end up being idiots or criminals, you just blame it on their out-of-the-picture biological father and his inferior genetic make-up. If they end up Nobel Prize winners, it was all due to your fantastic rearing. I’d take that gamble.

Just as I was about to call it a day, the Patron Saint of Creeps and Weirdos came through in a big way, as somehow I found myself involved in her game of catch. I don’t remember who threw me the ball or whose idea it was to include me, but for the sake of my ego and this story let’s pretend that it was all her idea… And for the sake of honesty I think I do remember and it was definitely one of the little kids’ idea to throw me the ball.

Either way, my pickup tactic of being as passive and strange as possible paid off, as I was fully immersed in their game of catch for the next fifteen minutes. As far as games of catch go, I must say that I turned in quite a performance. None of my throws hit the little kids in the face (priority #1) and some of my catches were quite acrobatic (therefore obliquely displaying my ability to hunt and gather for her on her behalf).

But all good things come to an end, and as our game of catch did, I had an absolutely golden opportunity to say whatever I wanted. The ball ended up right in the middle, and we both converged at the same speed. She was carrying one of the kids, so it wasn’t like a slow-motion, music-filled scene out of a really bad romantic comedy, but it was the perfect opportunity given the circumstances.

As we met, she told me that it was lunch time for the kids, and then she told the little boy to thank me for a “nice game of catch.” The little kid, perhaps finally realizing that I’m a creep or perhaps just being a little kid, shied away and said nothing. Me, realizing that I’m both a creep and a little kid, followed suit and said nothing as well.

Not hello. Not goodbye. Not what’s your name. Not will you marry me. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

In a matter of seconds, I went from being the creepy guy who has a knack for playing catch to the creepy guy who’s now even creepier because he doesn’t speak. Way to go, Zach.

As I left the spa, my only hope was that somehow she would find me and friend me on Facebook. I soon realized that she’d have to have some type of CIA training to accomplish that, as she didn’t know my name or anything else about me. I even Googled “creepy guy in Westfalen-Therme pool” and nothing led back to me. Unfortunately.

As the night wore on, I tried to rationalize my failed attempt at human interaction. She wouldn’t have understood what I was saying even if I had said anything. It’s inappropriate to hit on people in public pools. She wasn’t that attractive.

But that just sounds like another list of excuses.

Breakfast of Champions

August 29, 2010

Right before I left America, the last thing my mother said to me wasn’t I love you.

It wasn’t I’ll miss you.

It wasn’t have a safe flight.

She instead opted for a much more specific piece of advice:



Those are my bananas. You let your guard down for one second...

Really, mom? Yes, I’ve heard they’ll steal anything — your passport, your driver’s license, your library card… No, I mean that’s the last thing you have to say so me before I leave the country for eight months? (Pause) Yes.

Although that’s hardly the last thing you’d want to hear before a nine hour, transatlantic flight (let alone from the woman that birthed you), I still heeded and continue to heed my mother’s advice. I think it was how she said it. The Gypsies. Not just Gypsies. The the was very pronounced. The the makes everything more real. Watch out for killers on the loose. Duh. Watch out for the killer on the loose. All of a sudden he’s in your backyard. Needless to say, the Gypsies are now in my backyard.

Everywhere I walk, I do so with my hands on top of my pockets, protecting what little I actually carry around with me. It makes me look extremely weird and I constantly find myself reassuring strangers: “No, I’m not hiding a gun in here.”

I don’t tell you this story because it matters, I tell it to you because it was the wrong piece of advice. What I wish my mother would have said was Watch Out for Poland. Well she didn’t. And I didn’t.

This past week the team and I were in the Land of Kielbasa and Pierogi (the LKP, for short) for training camp. Even if you were blindfolded (or in my case, in a deep, deep sleep), you wouldn’t have difficulty determining the exact moment when you cross over from Germany to Poland. As soon as you enter the country, the infrastructure completely falls apart. Transitioning from the silky smooth stylings of the Autobahn to feeling like you’re in John Cusack’s limo in “2012” is more than enough to kick Leonardo DiCaprio out of limbo. And thanks to modern technology, here’s some actual footage of us driving in Poland.

I know Poland has had its fair share of problems, both historically and recently, and so I tried all week to think of something positive to say about Poland, and here’s what I’ve come up with:

I can understand why Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose chose Germany.

In Poland’s defense, the only city I spent time in was Kolobrzeg and I have a Polish expert back at Notre Dame that tells me Poland has much more to offer. I’ll take her word for it until I get the chance to see for myself. But until then, Poland and Kolobrzeg will be synonymous.

One positive thing about Poland was that our hotel was right on the Baltic Sea, and aside from getting absolutely owned by a couple of waves, I really enjoyed all the time we spent on the beach, even if it was for morning conditioning.

But let’s get to the good stuff.

Every morning in Poland, there’s a contest to see who can eat the most processed meats and cheeses — not only quantity, but variety as well. Based on some of the waistlines at our hotel, there were easily thirteen or fourteen current or former national champions in attendance. Endless trays of meats and cheeses that I couldn’t identify were ruthlessly torn apart by the patrons, all in an effort to become the next champ.

Imagine my shock when I realized that the Polish call this savage competition “breakfast.”


It was like this, just with more cheese and less packaging.

I asked the hostess if there were any vegetarians in Poland. She said “of course.” I must have walked away before she finished with “…but we ate them all.”

Food is my number one priority. It’s my favorite thing in the world. I didn’t get a Slingbox so I could watch ESPN or Jersey Shore, I got it so that I can watch the Food Network. I love ‘Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.’ I love ‘Good Eats.’ I’ll even watch ‘Throwdown! with Bobby Flay’ (although I’m relatively certain he wanted to call it ‘F&$* it! I’m Bobby Flay’). Even if I didn’t have a Slingbox, I could easily cope by videotaping myself eating and watching it later. My entire family is this way. We won’t talk about Politics. We won’t talk about current events. But we will talk about what we’re having for dinner a week from Thursday.

Back in my American days, my morning meal usually consisted of cereal, a bagel with peanut butter, some fruit, and occasionally some oatmeal. When I was really feeling frisky, I’d indulge in some bacon, maybe a waffle, definitely an english muffin, and perhaps an egg or two. The closest I got in Poland to my usual was a bowl of muesli and some bread. It wasn’t that bad, especially since it was free, and everybody knows that free food tastes better — it was just definitely different.

One non-meat, non-cheese related image won’t leave my mind. There was this hotel guest fisting a bowl of radishes like a one-eyed man searching for his glass eye in a bucketful of golf balls. Needless to say, I didn’t have any radishes that morning either.

The one time I ventured out of the hotel during our leisure hours, I found it impossible to navigate, as I was surrounded by a mountain of senior citizens all attempting to ski on concrete.


Concrete Slalom.

Now the only reason I feel comfortable making fun of old people skiing is because I have the worst ski accident story this side of death. And it’s not suitable for this blog. And I only tell people I trust. And sometimes I block it out of my mind entirely. And I’m really not going to tell you. At least not here. If you ever see me in person (and you bribe me) I might tell you.

And while I won’t leave you with that story, I will leave you with one last bit of advice:

Watch Out for THE Gypsies.


August 22, 2010

I apologize for being so rude.

We’ve internet-known each other for more than a week and I have yet to offer you a proper tour of my German digs.

If you’re unfamiliar with basketball overseas, one of the biggest perks is that your apartment rent is taken care of by the team, and honestly, it’s one of my favorite aspects of the whole arrangement.

When you’re not making a lot of money, there are few things more soul crushing than coughing up that rent check on the first of every month. The only thing worse than that is having to ask your friend to cough up one of his checks for you, especially when you already owe said friend $100 for some “party damage” you did to a cabbie’s upholstery in Nashville.

That last paragraph probably goes a long way towards explaining why I have very few close friends. And by close friends I mean friends – I don’t have enough of them to break them down into different classifications. It also explains how I have time to blog, as most of my other teammates are busy Skyping. You win some, you lose more.

The only reason I bring up friend quantity is because it’s good my number is so low, because if I ever invited any over to my apartment, I wouldn’t know where to put them.


I've spent twenty-six straight hours in here.

Now I’ve only seen the pilot episode of The Wire, but that was enough for me to learn that developing a crack habit would really tie my room together. The Wire also taught me how to make counterfeit money with a copy machine and a cup of coffee, although I don’t know if that’ll work over here since Euros come in several different colors. Maybe I’ll have to use smoothies, instead.

If you think I’m exaggerating, just look at the outside of my building.


My dealer and I.

All right, that’s not actually my dealer. But it is the friend that I owe a lot of money to so it’s basically the same thing. And that’s obviously not the front of my apartment either. Not yet at least. Paderborn does have its touches of graffiti here and there, but nothing quite like that. Although graffiti is inherently hard to read and I don’t speak German yet, so you never know.

One thing I do love about my apartment is the toilet.


Look closely.

At first glance, nothing about this toilet is particularly remarkable. But after getting to know it, you realize just how beautiful it is. Haven’t figured it out yet? It’s the flushing mechanism. There’s no silver handle. Just a centralized button on top.

I can’t believe it’s taken be twenty-three years to meet a toilet that wasn’t hand racist.

Well I finally have, and it’s one of those “AH HA!” moments when you start to wonder why all toilets aren’t built like this. And not only is it not hand racist, it’s not even species racist. Opposable thumbs not required to operate this beautifully executed piece of home furnishing. Even Jinxy Cat can flush this bad boy, Focker.

Aside from the toilet, I’ve been a little unfair towards my apartment. It’s only a temporary one until we get back from Poland next week, and aside from having to go down two flights of stairs and get in one of my teammates’ apartments to access my food, it hasn’t been that bad. They did say “temporary” in a strange tone though, kind of like when you’re trying to ditch that girl at a party and tell her that you’ll “be right back, I just have to use the bathroom,” and then sprint towards the nearest exit. But if this past summer taught me anything, it was how to live and sleep absolutely anywhere. At least I’m not outside.

On the bright side, at least they gave me a really cool car.


If you haven’t figured that out by now, no, I don’t have a car yet. I’ll get that when I get back from Poland as well (allegedly). It’s going to be really hard to enjoy another new country knowing how much is going to be waiting for me when I return.

Dr. Strangelove

August 17, 2010

Or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Germany

FULL DISCLOSURE: this post has nothing to do with the movie, so any Kubrick or Sellers fans that were directed here by mistake, I apologize.

FULL DISCLOSURE (PT. 2): this post has a lot to do with full disclosure.

So with that, here we go.

Nothing good ever comes from getting a physical. Ever.

Best case scenario:
Doctor: You’re fine. Come back next year. Maybe we can find something wrong then.
Me: Can’t wait…

Worst case scenario:
Doctor: You have five minutes to live, who do you want to call?
Me: Domino’s.
Doctor: Domino’s?! That pizza won’t get here for another thirty minutes! It’ll be too late!
Me: The idea of pizza makes me happier than anything else!
Doctor: Ok, get pepperoni!

So according to my estimation either you waste a couple of hours and learn nothing, or you die with an undelivered pizza that will only be enjoyed by your doctor. And maybe a nurse or two. It’s a Lose-Lose situation.

Last year at Notre Dame, one of the guys I worked with avoided getting physicals as much as he avoided meals that didn’t contain ranch dressing. I don’t consume as much ranch as he does, but I still don’t look forward to physicals. They’re invasive, time consuming, and there’s always the ever-present question on whether or not you’ll have to drop trou.

I don’t care what my friends may have told you, taking your pants off in front of strangers is uncomfortable. And doctors are usually strangers. It gets even more uncomfortable and embarrassing when they ask you to take your pants off after you already have.


Those are actually my legs.

The physical started off like your average physical. That is if your average physical starts off by filling out important medical forms — forms written entirely in German — like you were filling in a Mad Libs book. Verb. Noun. Adjective. Adverb.

Needless to say, I filled out two things on the form before calling it quits. I know I said I wanted to learn German, but it’s been two days and I only know how to say “How are you doing?” and “key,” and there’s a good chance I will have forgotten both by tomorrow morning.

After the whole form fiasco, the physical progressed somewhat normally. Blood samples, height and weight measurements, blood pressure, etc. My BP was 130/90. The doctor asked if I was nervous. I said, “No, I have medical tests performed on me in foreign countries all the time.” She seemed to accept that answer as fact and went on testing away.

The only test that hit a speed bump was the body composition test (fat, water, and muscle content). Now I’ve had my body fat tested routinely since I was a freshman in college, and it’s never been higher than 12%. That 12% was during my freshman year when I was playing very little and eating quite a lot, which left me at an unhealthy 238 lbs., fully equipped with love handles and an ass that wouldn’t quit.

Apparently in Germany they measure body fat differently. Back at ND, we used Digital Skin Calipers (also the name of my band) and we’d take a pinch from the side of the pectoral, one from the stomach, and one from the quad. It’s a very quick and reasonably efficient way of getting the job done. In Germany, however, they attach four little electrodes (two for your dominant foot and two for your dominant hand), hook it up to a machine and let it ride.

According to this little blessing of a machine, my body fat percentage is at 18.6%, which means that either that thing is wrong, or the fat content in German bananas is off the charts (you already know I haven’t been eating bread).


What I look like in Germany.

After some lost in translation moments with the doctor, we agreed to disagree (I think) and I went through a series of other tests. The day ended with a stress test, where I had to ride a stationary bike at increasing wattage for 10-15 minutes. In front of the stationary bike there’s a huge window, and so I was able to see an old man ride his real bike past me. In that moment I felt extremely stupid. I’m twenty-three, hooked up to this crazy machine, and I’m on this bike going nowhere. He’s seventy-three, is wearing a huge protective helmet, and is flying by me and getting to where he needs to go. He wins.

The best part about the stress test, however, were the marks that were left by the measuring equipment.



It looks like I tried to breastfeed five very angry and rightly confused baby elephants. That’s the one thing I promised my mom I wouldn’t do while abroad. I hope she believes my story.

Although it took nearly three hours, my physical still ended as a best case scenario.

I guess I’ll just check back in a year and see what’s wrong with me.

The Point of No Return

August 16, 2010

I hate myself.

I say it or think at least once a day.

And on my first full day in The Barn, it didn’t take long for me to say it and think it.

Everything was going perfectly well. Had a great night sleep, didn’t have anywhere to be till eleven, and had enough Zone bars left to qualify for a makeshift breakfast. Aside from the cleaning lady ringing my buzzer sixty-four times (not a metaphor), the morning was perfect and at that point, I still didn’t hate myself.

But I do now.

Let me give you a the background. Since I played soccer in high school, I live under the belief that I can properly kick anything. And not just kick, but juggle. For non-soccer fans, juggling is just keeping the ball in the air without using your hands.

This belief has never really gotten me into trouble before. Kick a soccer ball, basketball, or football and you’re okay. Kick a bowling ball, a baby, or the girl from last night and you’re probably going to be arrested or hospitalized. Do all three in the same day and you’ll probably be institutionalized.

So we made our first trip (on foot) to the grocery store. Our cars don’t come in till next week, which is okay, because now I’ll get to tell my grandkids that I had to walk by a British Military base just to get my groceries (dodging bullets and teacups, no less). So when they complain that their Nintendo Wii 360 iPad doesn’t work, I’ll tell them to shut up and make me a PB&J.


We are the Paderborn Baskets. Maybe this should be the new logo.

I hate buying toilet paper. Someone always sees you and gives you that look like “I know what you’re going to do with that.” This time it was an old lady. Like a really old lady. Like old enough to have used cursive writing. Or old enough to have actually invented toilet paper. So either she was smirking because she had the intimate knowledge of why I needed toilet paper, or she was just glad that Apple hasn’t come out with iWipe and put her out of business. Yet.

But whatever, toilet paper, I needed it. Still didn’t hate myself at this point.

It was the walk home.

I knew it was a bad sign when I had to actually buy the bag for my groceries. And it’s a crappy bag. I couldn’t hold it by the handles because the contents were too heavy, and I certainly didn’t want to buy another one, so I had to get under it and hold it with my left arm while my right arm was in charge of the TP 10-Pack. It was a bit of a balancing act, but I was in complete control of the situation.

Now I’ve never worked at a grocery store (us former secretaries are above that kind of work) but I know enough to put the bread on top of the other groceries. So that’s where mine went. Twenty-plus slices of whole grain sandwich-making potential.

I don’t know if it was the walking or the military base looming over my left shoulder, but somewhere along the line I lost my focus. And as soon as I did, my balance shifted, my bag tipped, and my bread fell out of the bag.

Bread falls to the ground, who cares? It’s in plastic, after all. They don’t just hand you bare, uncovered bread in Germany. It’s not like I got it at some kind of Bread Strip Club. So when bread falls, normally it wouldn’t be a problem.

It only becomes a problem when you’re a professional idiot with a history of kicking shit that you’re not supposed to kick. So instead of letting the bread hit the ground, I kick it like I’m trying to score the game winning goal in the World Cup Final. I kicked the bag in the direct center and it exploded everywhere, leaving slice after slice on the sidewalk next to dirt, bugs, and the random left cup of a bra.

After having a quick conversation with the guys on whether or not we should call the police and report the bra, we decided that we had walked too far to go back to the store and that I’d have to live with the fact that my potential sandwich count was reduced to three before even reaching my apartment (eight slices were spared, but one was the butt so that doesn’t count).


And I'm pretty sure the slice on top touched the ground.

It’s only Monday, and I just used four slices, so it looks like Peanut Butter and Jelly Hands are going to be the menu for the rest of the week. If there’s anything to take away from this it’s that at least I learned an important life lesson:

Don’t kick bread. You idiot.

I hate myself.

Up in the Air

August 15, 2010

Okay, I lied.

When I wrote my first blog entry I wasn’t actually over in Germany. I wasn’t even packed yet.

Before many crucial cuts were made.

But I’m legitimately in Germany now.

I flew from Chicago-O’Hare Saturday night and landed in Frankfurt Sunday morning. Just a little under 9 hours.

I don’t know what it is about being 30,000+ feet up in the air, but it’s one of the best places for me to think. It’s a mix of essentially being alone amidst 350+ people (I’m not the type to exchange life stories with Guy Left and Guy Right — maybe if it was Girl Right) and having the awareness that at any moment you could just drop out of the sky and have absolutely no control over your life.

Eight-plus hours is a long time to think. And eight and a half months is a long time to be away from home. It’s difficult to grasp that length of time until the plane actually takes off, but when it does, it hits you almost immediately. Damn, I won’t be back in America for eight and a half months. That’s a pregnancy. I really hope America isn’t pregnant when I get back.

What I’m saying is that a lot can happen in that time frame. It’s a lot like having a long distance relationship. Sure, I can Skype and email you, maybe even sneak in a visit, but it’s not the same as being there. Our experiences will be entirely different. It’s not like I can DVR it and watch it later.

With all of that being said, these are the things I’ll miss most about the U.S. (in order, sorry Mom):

(1) My iPhone

I’m a total tech geek. My iPhone was like an extra appendage. No more 24 hour access to on demand knowledge, no more texting, no more drunk sexting (honest mistake, Grandma). I’m kidding, that obviously didn’t happen. I’ll miss “Maps” the most, as my sense of direction is about as keen as that of a blind three-legged dog with a horrendous case of vertigo. So, my fellow PotteryBarn-ites, if you see a 6’9″ guy walking around crying, it’s me trying to find the grocery store. Please help me. Thank you in advance.

The Last Supper.

(2) My family and friends

All right, this is really the number one, but I have to keep my loved ones on their toes. The easiest way to not miss your friends is by not having a lot of them, so in that regard, I’ve done pretty well for myself. But for the friends that I do have, they’ll be missed.

(3) Netflix/American Theatres

I love movies as much as I love technology. When you live in the midwest, there isn’t much else to love unless you’re looking to get arrested. I’ve noticed that some movie titles get changed over here in Germany. For instance, Killers was renamed…

No title change could have saved this movie from being a total disaster. Except maybe “This Movie is a Total Disaster, So is the script, and Ashton Kutcher Still Can’t Act.”

I will definitely miss those three things, but here are some things I’m looking forward to about living in Germany.

(1) Playing Basketball for a Team Again

Sitting out a year with injury makes you realize how much you enjoy playing and being part of a team. I’ve met four of the teammates so far, and they all seem like good guys. Our first practice is at 6 PM tomorrow night, and I’m anxious to see what Basket practices are like. I’ve been lingering around the ND program for the past year, soaking up all of the competition that they had to offer. I think I can speak for them and say “thank god he finally left.”

(2) Learning to Speak German

Don’t worry, Paderborn. I’ve already been lectured by Thorsten and Toby (sounds like a good folk singing duo, no?) on the correct pronunciation of the city. I was telling everyone back home that it was PAY-der-born. After my quick lesson, I’m almost positive it’s pah-da-BORN. I’m for certain it’s not Pottery Barn. Unfortunate.

(3) Learning a New Culture

Apparently when you order a water, you get one with bubbles. Like the fizzy lifting drinks from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Now since I watched this movie 100 times in a row while I had the chicken pox, you’d think I could get on board with the fizzy business. Not yet. Time will tell. But I do already have my first “German” meal under my belt, albeit at a very Americanized spot called The Road House.

Chicken Burger with Chips. Welcome to Germany.

It’s Sunday here right now, which apparently means the whole town shuts down. Even the grocery stores. May have to eat the packets of ketchup I found in my jacket for survival.

Even though I’m starting to feel like Will Smith in I Am Legend after his dog dies, I’m still very excited for this opportunity and experience.

The only thing I ask:

America, please don’t get knocked up while I’m gone.

More tomorrow.


August 12, 2010

My name is Zach and I’m over there.

And over there is Germany.

If you need advice on how to go from being a secretary to a basketball player, then I’m your guy.

For those of you who don’t know me, yes, I did spend this past year as more or less of a secretary. And yes, my resume says Assistant Academic Advisor instead of secretary. I called myself Triple A. That’s not true. In my defense, I was a damn good one (whatever you want to call me). That’s not true either. I was terribly unprofessional. I stopped wearing shoes to “work.” And I don’t mean I started wearing sandals, I mean I went most of the day walking around barefoot. The only thing less professional than that is getting a tattoo on your neck, and with the money I was making, well, that was simply unaffordable. But so was food and water.

My main work responsibilities were entertaining female Freshman athletes (legally) and not spilling cereal on my desk. I was better at the former than the latter but to have those two activities consume most of my time was more than a secretary Assistant Academic Advisor could ask for. And for that, I have to thank my fellow Comosapiens — Pat, Sarge, Chad, Red, Kassen, Mary Ann, and Jean. You all helped me reach my potential, and I will truly miss the near complete lack of responsibility bestowed upon me.

Coming off of a shitty senior season, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life, and all of my day to day activities were filled with a heavy amount of existential angst.

I was angsty.

The only thing I’ve figured out after a year was that I still don’t know what I want to do with my life and that’s okay. I have some ideas of course, but so much can change between now and the next moment that locking into any such “career path” made me worry that I would miss any serendipitous opportunities that may or may not roll my way. There’s a fine line between security and freedom, and I tend to lean towards William Wallace.

Not this William Wallace.

The other only thing I figured out was that the most important things in my life were/are family and friends. That realization, combined with the fact that I had to have shoulder surgery, greatly influenced my decision to stay in South Bend and take somewhat of a fifth year. Although sometimes being in South Bend sucked (read: Winter) it was great to have some of my family and friends around as I transitioned from being a Senior in college to a Freshman in life. But after spending five years and six summers in South Bend under the watchful gaze of the hypocritically expensive Golden Dome, I’m ready to leave.

And where I’m going is Germany. To play basketball.

For 8 1/2 months.

I’m both excited and nervous and I look forward to sharing my experiences here with anyone who wants to read them.